Much as I love turbot, I think the mighty stripped red mullet (rouget de roche) is an equally noble fish. When cooked to the right temperature (as is the case for most protein, my preference almost always hovers the 55degC mark), the inherent oiliness, perky flakes and its particular depth in flavour surely makes it one of the most delicious experiences.
And what better time than now to savour this superb fish, they are plentiful in the Summer where they swim to our shores in the South West. Unlike the aforementioned mighty flat fish which develops flavour after a few days resting in the fridge, these little guys must be bought and consumed spanking fresh, with clear eyes and all, as they go off quick.
I had managed to secure two excellent (Cornish) specimens a couple of weekends ago from Rex, who is now becoming my go-to guy for fish.
Lovely fellas. Guts and all still in place, as there is of course the little matter of its liver, a delicacy taking a reputation as ‘foie de la mer’.
I take my time to gut and fillet, carefully ensuring that I keep the scales on (you will see why in a moment).
I tried out a relatively famous method of pouring hot oil over a fillet with scales on, in an effort to crisp it up. There are a number of famous chefs who have added this to their repertoire over the years including Martin B, Robuchon (Japan) and Jungsik to name a few.
I heat up vegetable oil to 200degC in a saucepan, and over it goes (video below).
Ain’t that pretty? I was informed that there are better ways to do this, and for sake of posterity, you can angle the fish on the edge of a saucepan and ladle hot oil over it to get the scales to rise in a more aesthetically pleasing manner. Will try that the next time.
The fish goes into a very low oven (70degC) to be finished off. About 10 minutes or so and we then have the desired attributes of most protein: crispy/dry skin + moist flesh.
I think this fish is made for bouillabaisse and it is very simply a perfect match. For this, I make up a base consisting of fennel, tomatoes, red peppers, new potatoes, bring to boil in water and then flavour with paprika and of course a good dose of saffron. The red mullet trimmings, especially the head goes into my stock. I simmer for 90 minutes, to extract max flavour.
After that, I strain the soup, put some softened fennel and peppers in the vitamix. Next is the vital step, I put lobster butter, which I had drawn from the shell of a Dorset lobster the week before, into the food processor. Lobster shell combined with the red mullet stock/bisque (and saffron) is the flavour depth I’m looking for in this bouillabaise.
And then I blitz (video below).
My bouillabaisse. No cream involved, but I particularly like the emulsion effect, created mainly from whizzing butter with the broth. In a way, its like a cross between a bouillabaisse and a beurre blanc.
To plate up, two versions as follows:
Red mullet with crispy scales, bouillabaisse, new potatoes (lifted from the stock) and courgette flower (from our garden)
The minimalist version
Out of frame is some baguette and a quick aioli, soak the bread in the soup stock, that’s a meal.